Wednesday, May 18, 2016
The Supreme Court issued Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, No. 13-1339, earlier this week. In a majority opinion unlikely to make anyone happy, the Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s decision, which held that Robins had adequately alleged Article III standing, and remanded.
A Brief Recap
Robins’ complaint alleged that Spokeo maintained an inaccurate consumer report about him on its website, in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act’s requirement that consumer reporting agencies “follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information concerning the individual about whom the report relates.” In particular, Robins alleged that a photo purporting to be Robins on the site wasn’t him, and that the site incorrectly stated that he was in his 50s, married, employed in a professional or technical field, has children, has a graduate degree, and is in the top 10% for wealth.
The upshot of this disseminated misinformation, Robins alleged, was that when he was “out of work” and “actively seeking employment,” he encountered “[imminent and ongoing] actual harm to [his] employment prospects.”
The Majority Opinion
You wouldn’t know that Robins alleged actual harm to his employment prospects by reading the majority opinion, which didn’t mention it. Instead, the majority opinion by Justice Alito (joined by Roberts, Kennedy, and Thomas and inexplicably by Breyer and Kagan) managed to further stultify constitutional standing doctrine by seizing on the Court’s prior repetition of the phrase “concrete and particularized” in describing the “injury in fact” required for standing. The Court now finds it obvious that these are separate, distinct requirements: (1) concrete and (2) particularized (although the Court cited no case that actually discussed these terms separately). The Ninth Circuit, held the majority, applied the “particularized” branch but not the “concreteness” branch.
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
My latest article, The Rise and Fall of Plausibility Pleading?, has just been published in the Vanderbilt Law Review. It builds on some of my earlier work on pleading (here and here), focusing on the Supreme Court’s post-Iqbal decisions on pleading standards (e.g., Johnson v. City of Shelby; Wood v. Moss; Matrixx Initiatives, Inc. v. Siracusano). Here’s the abstract:
The Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly and its 2009 decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal unleashed a torrent of scholarly reaction. Commentators charged these decisions with adopting a new pleading regime, "plausibility pleading," that upended the notice-pleading approach that had long prevailed in federal court. Whether a complaint could survive a motion to dismiss — it was argued — now depends on whether the court found the complaint plausible, allowing courts to second-guess a complaint’s allegations without any opportunity for discovery or consideration of actual evidence. Lower courts began to cite Twombly and Iqbal at a remarkably high rate, and empirical work revealed their effect on both dismissal rates and litigant behavior.
Although Twombly and Iqbal were troubling on many levels, the rise of a newly restrictive form of plausibility pleading was not inevitable. There was — and still is — a path forward that would retain the notice-pleading approach set forth in the text of the Federal Rules themselves and confirmed by pre-Twombly case law. This Article describes this reading of Twombly and Iqbal, and explains how more recent Supreme Court pleading decisions are consistent with this understanding. It is crucial, however, that these post-Iqbal decisions and the approach to pleading they reflect receive the same attention that accompanied Twombly, Iqbal, and the rise of plausibility pleading. Otherwise the narrative that Twombly and Iqbal compel a more restrictive pleading standard may become further entrenched, compounding the adverse effects of those problematic decisions.
Friday, March 25, 2016
This week the Supreme Court issued its decision in Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, covered here, here, and here. Tyson Foods is one of several important class action cases on the Court’s docket this Term—and the second one decided so far. Like Campbell-Ewald back in January, the Tyson Foods decision is generally good news for proponents of class actions. By a 6-2 vote, the Court upheld class certification under Rule 23(b)(3).
Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Chief Justice Roberts wrote a separate concurring opinion, which was joined in part by Justice Alito. Justice Thomas wrote a dissenting opinion, which Justice Alito joined. All the opinions are worth a read, but below are a few highlights from Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion.
First, Justice Kennedy emphasized that the presence of some individualized issues is not fatal to Rule 23(b)(3)’s predominance requirement:
The predominance inquiry “asks whether the common, aggregation-enabling, issues in the case are more prevalent or important than the non-common, aggregation-defeating, individual issues.” [2 W. Rubenstein, Newberg on Class Actions], §4:49, at 195–196. When “one or more of the central issues in the action are common to the class and can be said to predominate, the action may be considered proper under Rule 23(b)(3) even though other important matters will have to be tried separately, such as damages or some affirmative defenses peculiar to some individual class members.” 7AA C. Wright, A. Miller, & M. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure §1778, pp. 123–124 (3d ed. 2005) (footnotes omitted).
Justice Kennedy also provided some important guidance on the Supreme Court’s 2011 Wal-Mart decision, clarifying that “Wal-Mart does not stand for the broad proposition that a representative sample is an impermissible means of establishing class-wide liability.” He recognized the practical reality that “[i]n many cases, a representative sample is ‘the only practicable means to collect and present relevant data’ establishing a defendant’s liability. Manual of Complex Litigation §11.493, p. 102 (4th ed. 2004).” And:
In a case where representative evidence is relevant in proving a plaintiff’s individual claim, that evidence cannot be deemed improper merely because the claim is brought on behalf of a class. To so hold would ignore the Rules Enabling Act’s pellucid instruction that use of the class device cannot “abridge . . . any substantive right.” 28 U. S. C. §2072(b).
The Court ultimately did not resolve the second question in Tyson Foods, which was originally framed as “whether a class may be certified if it contains ‘members who were not injured and have no legal right to any damages.’” After noting that Tyson Foods had “reframe[d] this argument” in its merits brief, Justice Kennedy declined to address it “because the damages award has not yet been disbursed, nor does the record indicate how it will be disbursed.” The Court therefore remanded the case, recognizing that Tyson Foods “may raise a challenge to the proposed method of allocation when the case returns to the District Court for disbursal of the award.” In his final paragraph of analysis, however, Justice Kennedy noted that the potential for “uninjured class members” to recover from the class judgment appeared to be a problem “of [Tyson Foods’] own making,” because Tyson Foods had argued against having bifurcated liability and damages proceedings.
For additional coverage, check out:
- Perry Cooper (Bloomberg)
- Lyle Denniston (SCOTUSblog)
- Alexandra Lahav (Mass Tort Litigation Blog)
- Adam Liptak (New York Times)
Thursday, March 17, 2016
There’s a lot of attention right now on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court. But I wanted to quickly flag last week’s unanimous decision on diversity jurisdiction. Justice Sotomayor’s opinion in Americold Realty Trust v. ConAgra Foods, Inc. begins:
This case asks how to determine the citizenship of a “real estate investment trust,” an inanimate creature of Maryland law. We answer: While humans and corporations can assert their own citizenship, other entities take the citizenship of their members.
The Court reaffirmed the “oft-repeated rule” that unincorporated entities take on the citizenship of all of their members (citing Carden v. Arkoma Associates, 494 U. S. 185 (1990)), and held that the “members” of this sort of Maryland-law entity included all of its shareholders:
In Maryland, a real estate investment trust is an “unincorporated business trust or association” in which property is held and managed “for the benefit and profit of any person who may become a shareholder.” Md. Corp. & Assns. Code Ann. §§8–101(c), 8–102 (2014). As with joint-stock companies or partnerships, shareholders have “ownership interests” and votes in the trust by virtue of their “shares of beneficial interest.” §§8–704(b)(5), 8–101(d). These shareholders appear to be in the same position as the shareholders of a joint-stock company or the partners of a limited partnership—both of whom we viewed as members of their relevant entities. See Carden, 494 U. S., at 192–196; see also §8–705(a) (linking the term “beneficial interests” with “membership interests” and “partnership interests”). We therefore conclude that for purposes of diversity jurisdiction, Americold’s members include its shareholders.
Justice Sotomayor concluded by recognizing—but rejecting—the argument that the citizenship of an unincorporated entity should be determined the same way as a corporation:
We also decline an amicus’ invitation to apply the same rule to an unincorporated entity that applies to a corporation—namely, to consider it a citizen only of its State of establishment and its principal place of business. See Brief for National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts 11–21. When we last examined the “doctrinal wall” between corporate and unincorporated entities in 1990, we saw no reason to tear it down. Carden, 494 U. S., at 190. Then as now we reaffirm that it is up to Congress if it wishes to incorporate other entities into 28 U. S. C. §1332(c)’s special jurisdictional rule.
Monday, January 25, 2016
SCOTUS Decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana: Supreme Court Jurisdiction, State Courts, and Retroactivity
Today the Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision in Montgomery v. Louisiana, which involves the retroactive effect of the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama (where the Court prohibited mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole for juveniles).
The case presented both an interesting question of Supreme Court jurisdiction in the context of state collateral review proceedings, and the perennial federal courts challenge of when a new constitutional right applies retroactively. The majority opinion authored by Justice Kennedy (joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan & Sotomayor) concluded:
(1) The Supreme Court had jurisdiction to review a state court’s failure to recognize, in the context of state collateral review, a federal constitutional right that applies retroactively;
(2) Miller did announce “a substantive rule of constitutional law” that applies retroactively; and
(3) A state may remedy a Miller violation by extending parole eligibility to juvenile offenders.
The three dissenters were Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, who disagreed both on jurisdiction and on the merits. Justice Scalia wrote a dissenting opinion that was joined by both Thomas and Alito, and Justice Thomas wrote a separate dissent as well.
Check out Lyle Denniston’s analysis on SCOTUSblog.
Friday, January 22, 2016
I'm overcoming my reticence to post twice about one of my articles, because I want to promote the law students at St. Thomas University School of Law who have labored to establish the new St. Thomas Journal of Complex Litigation (JCL). The final version of my article, "Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins: The Illusory 'No-Injury' Class Reaches the Supreme Court," has just been posted on the JCL website. The abstract is available on SSRN here.
The St. Thomas JCL is pleased to accept submissions through ExpressO or Scholastica from judges, attorneys, law faculty, and law students. Information on submissions is here.
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
The Supreme Court issued its decision today in Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez, a closely watched case on class actions, Article III, and mootness (covered earlier here and here). Justice Ginsburg’s majority opinion begins:
Is an unaccepted offer to satisfy the named plaintiff ’s individual claim sufficient to render a case moot when the complaint seeks relief on behalf of the plaintiff and a class of persons similarly situated? This question, on which Courts of Appeals have divided, was reserved in Genesis HealthCare Corp. v. Symczyk, 569 U. S. ___, ___, ___, n. 4 (2013) (slip op., at 5, 6, n. 4). We hold today, in accord with Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, that an unaccepted settlement offer has no force. Like other unaccepted contract offers, it creates no lasting right or obligation. With the offer off the table, and the defendant’s continuing denial of liability, adversity between the parties persists.
Justice Ginsburg’s opinion is joined by Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Thomas adds a sixth vote, but writes a separate concurring opinion. Chief Justice Roberts writes a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Scalia and Alito, and Justice Alito writes a dissenting opinion as well.
Friday, January 15, 2016
Whether a federal court of appeals has jurisdiction under both Article III and 28 U.S.C. § 1291 to review an order denying class certification after the named plaintiffs voluntarily dismiss their individual claims with prejudice.
You can find all the cert-stage briefing—and follow the merits briefs as they come in—at SCOTUSblog.
Monday, December 14, 2015
SCOTUS Decision in DIRECTV v. Imburgia: Federal Arbitration Act Overrides State Contract Law (Again)
Today the Supreme Court issued its decision in DIRECTV, Inc. v. Imburgia. The vote was 6-3, with Justice Breyer writing the majority opinion. Justice Thomas writes a dissenting opinion, and Justice Ginsburg writes a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Sotomayor.
As covered earlier here and here, Imburgia is another case involving the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). The particular issue is whether the FAA allows California to construe an arbitration provision referring to California state law (the “law of your state”) to mean state law as it existed prior to the U.S. Supreme Court invalidating certain aspects of California contract law in its 2011 decision in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion. That was how the California Court of Appeal construed the arbitration agreement in Imburgia, but Justice Breyer’s majority opinion disagrees, concluding instead that such a construction itself violates the FAA by failing to “place arbitration contracts on equal footing with all other contracts.”
Three new articles recently posted on SSRN:
1. Christopher Beauchamp (Brooklyn Law School) has posted The First Patent Litigation Explosion, forthcoming in Yale Law Journal.
The twenty-first century “patent litigation explosion” is not unprecedented. In fact, the nineteenth century saw an even bigger surge of patent cases. During that era, the most prolific patent enforcers brought hundreds or even thousands of suits, dwarfing the efforts of today’s leading “trolls.” In 1850, New York City and Philadelphia alone had ten times more patent litigation, per U.S. patent in force, than the entire United States in 2013. Even the absolute quantity of late-nineteenth-century patent cases bears comparison to the numbers filed in recent years: the Southern District of New York in 1880 would have ranked third on the list of districts with the most patent infringement suits filed in 2014 and would have headed the list as recently as 2010.
This Article reveals the forgotten history of the first patent litigation explosion. It first describes the rise of large-scale patent enforcement in the middle of the nineteenth century. It then draws on new data from the archives of two leading federal courts to trace the development of patent litigation from 1840 to 1910 and to outline the scale, composition, and leading causes of the litigation boom. Finally, the Article explores the consequences of this phenomenon for the law and politics of the patent system. The effects of the litigation explosion were profound. The rise of large-scale patent assertion provides a new explanation for patent law’s crucial shift from common law to equity decision making in the middle of the nineteenth century. And at its height, the litigation explosion produced a political backlash that threatened to sweep away the patent system as we know it. Recovering the history of patent law during this formative and turbulent era offers fresh perspectives on the patent reform debates of today.
2. Lee Epstein (Washington University in St. Louis School of Law) and Eric A. Posner (University of Chicago Law School) have posted Supreme Court Justices' Loyalty to the President.
A statistical analysis of voting by Supreme Court justices from 1937-2014 provides evidence of a “loyalty effect”—justices more frequently vote for the government when the president who appointed them is in office than when subsequent presidents lead the government. This effect exists even when subsequent presidents are of the same party as the justices in question. However, the loyalty effect is much stronger for Democratic justices than for Republican justices. This may be because Republican presidents are more ideologically committed than Democratic justices are, leaving less room for demonstrations of loyalty.
3. Bradley Wendel (Cornell University School of Law) has posted Litigation Trolls (NYU Law School Center on Civil Justice Symposium on "Litigation Funding: The Basics and Beyond").
Third-party financing of litigation has been described with a variety of unflattering metaphors. Litigation financers have been likened to gamblers in the courtroom casino, loan sharks, vultures, Wild West outlaws, and busybodies mucking about in the private affairs of others. Now Judge Richard Posner has referred to third-party financers as litigation trolls, an undeniably unflattering comparison to patent trolls. But what it is, if anything, that makes third-party financers “trolls”? Legal claims are, for the most part, freely assignable, the proceeds of claims are assignable, and various strangers to the underlying lawsuit, including liability insurers and plaintiffs’ contingency-fee counsel, are permitted to have an economic interest in the outcome of the litigation. On one view, therefore, third-party litigation investment is just another innovative financial product that enables risk to be carved up and allocated more efficiently. Life insurance, attorney contingent fees, and derivative contracts on exchange-traded commodities were all formerly regarded with extreme suspicion, but are now widely accepted. But people still hate patent trolls. So whether litigation funding is some kind of conceptual anomaly is an important question because, as it happens, Posner’s dictum coincides with a public-relations campaign by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to stigmatize third-party litigation financing and saddle the industry with new and burdensome regulations. This short paper evaluates the conceptual critique of litigation financing by comparison with two other areas in which it is claimed that some form of financing “just doesn’t sit right” in light of the nature and function of the legal system – patent trolling and contributions to judicial election campaigns.
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Today the Supreme Court issued its first opinion in an argued case this Term: OBB Personenverkehr AG v. Sachs. In an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, the Court unanimously held that a lawsuit against the Austrian state-owned railway was barred by Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. From the opinion:
Respondent Carol Sachs is a resident of California who purchased in the United States a Eurail pass for rail travel in Europe. She suffered traumatic personal injuries when she fell onto the tracks at the Innsbruck, Austria, train station while attempting to board a train operated by the Austrian state-owned railway. She sued the railway in Federal District Court, arguing that her suit was not barred by sovereign immunity because it is “based upon” the railway’s sale of the pass to her in the United States. We disagree and conclude that her action is instead “based upon” the railway’s conduct in Innsbruck. We therefore hold that her suit falls outside the commercial activity exception and is barred by sovereign immunity.
Our earlier coverage is here.
Monday, November 30, 2015
In another recent essay on Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins (see also here and here), Professor Joan E. Steinman (IIT-Chicago-Kent College of Law) has posted on SSRN her article, Spokeo, Where Shalt Thou Stand? This article is forthcoming in Vanderbilt Law Review, Vol. 68 (2015).
Professor F. Andrew Hessick (University of Utah - S.J. Quinney School of Law) has posted on SSRN his article, "Understanding Standing." The article is forthcoming in Vanderbilt Law Review En Banc.
Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, which is before the Supreme Court this term, poses a fundamental question of Article III standing: Does a person have standing to sue to seek redress for the violation of a substantive statutory right, even if he did not suffer any factual harm from the violation of that right?
Standing is one of the doctrines that define the power of the federal judiciary. Federal courts cannot hear all disputes. Instead, Article III authorizes them to resolve only “cases” and “controversies.” The Supreme Court has interpreted those terms to authorize federal courts to resolve only those disputes that were “traditionally amenable to, and resolved by, the judicial process.” This restriction, the Court has said, is critical to maintaining the separation of powers. According to the Court, standing enforces these limits on the judicial power.
Despite standing’s importance to maintaining the federal judiciary’s proper role in the federal government, the Court has been inconsistent on what a plaintiff must show to establish standing. Some cases say that the violation of an individual right is enough; others suggest that a factual harm is required. That inconsistency underlies the standing dispute in Spokeo. If the purpose of Article III standing is to protect the separation of powers by restricting federal courts to resolving only those disputes that courts historically could hear, the answer to that question is clear: the violation of a legal right alone should support Article III standing.
Friday, November 20, 2015
Over at his In Progress blog, Colin Starger has mapped out everyone’s favorite judicially-crafted exception the final judgment rule, showing “19 of the Supreme Court’s collateral order cases using a modified Spaeth Projection.”
Friday, November 13, 2015
I have recently posted on SSRN an article, "Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins: The Illusory 'No-Injury' Class Reaches the Supreme Court." The article is forthcoming in the newly-established St. Thomas Journal of Complex Litigation, which is currently welcoming submissions.
The Supreme Court’s grant of certiorari in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 135 S. Ct. 1892 (Mem.) (2015) casts a shadow on the long-accepted constitutional principle that Congress has the authority to enact a statute to regulate corporations’ behavior for the public good, and to provide a private right of action to a person as to whom the statute is violated. That right of action often provides for the award of a minimum amount of statutory damages as an alternative or in addition to actual damages.
Congress has enacted numerous such statutes, including the one at issue in Spokeo, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), which was passed forty-five years ago. Suddenly, within the last ten years, corporate litigation activists have invented a new argument to avoid regulatory statutes that provide for statutory damages. They claim that a “mere” statutory violation is an “injury in law” rather than the “injury in fact” required for Article III standing. And they are launching a frontal assault on Congress’s constitutional authority to enact any statute that provides a private right of action for its violation, accusing Congress of thereby violating Article III by “creating standing.”
Corporate litigation activists then apply to a class representative the argument that the violation of a person’s statutory rights is not an “injury in fact,” and call the result a “no-injury class.” The appellation “no-injury class” is another misleading verbal weapon of recent vintage.
This article hopes to makes three small contributions to the burgeoning literature on Spokeo, which at this writing has not yet been decided. First, the Question Presented to the Supreme Court is misleading and overbroad. It implies that the plaintiff in Spokeo, Thomas Robins, has been found not to have suffered any “concrete harm,” but the case is still at the pleading stage. Thus, the question is simply whether Robins’s complaint contains sufficient allegations of injury, assumed to be true on a motion to dismiss, to establish Article III standing. Further, the Question Presented implies that a ruling involving the FCRA (the statute at issue in Spokeo) will be generalizable to all other statutes that create a private right of action and allow statutory damages, without recognizing the many variations in these statutes’ language and operation.
Second, the article sketches the historical legal difference between the words “injury” and “damage.” “Injury” connotes the violation of one’s legal right, even if one has not sustained any actual harm, while “damage” means a loss or harm, even if one has no legal right to sue. The Supreme Court has adhered to these meanings since Marbury v. Madison. Given that historical distinction, the term “injury in fact” is confusing and somewhat self-contradictory: under the definition of “injury” as the violation of a legal right, the term “injury in fact” is akin to “violation of a legal right in fact.” Further, the petitioner Spokeo’s newly-discovered phrase “injury in law” – which has never been used in a single United States Supreme Court opinion -- is redundant. Under the definition of “injury” as the violation of a legal right, the phrase “injury in law” is akin to “legal right in law.” But however nonsensical, the epithet “injury in law” serves a useful purpose for corporate activists: it minimizes, even ridicules, so-called “technical,” “trifling” statutes that regulate corporate behavior.
Finally, the petitioner Spokeo and its numerous business-oriented amici could have made the very same argument they are making in Spokeo – that the violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act is not itself an “injury in fact” – only nine years ago in Safeco Insurance Co. v. Burr, 551 U.S. 47 (2007), but did not. In Safeco, the putative class alleged that insurers Safeco and GEICO had not complied with the FCRA’s requirement of sending the class members notice of an “adverse action” when the insurers did not charge them the lowest available insurance rate because of a less-than-perfect credit report. The defendants’ amici repeatedly stated that the plaintiffs in Safeco had not alleged any “actual harm” or “actual damages” even though they sought $1,000 in statutory damages for each member of the class (as the FCRA allows). Thus, Safeco presented exactly the same alleged “no-injury” situation, under exactly the same statute, as Spokeo. Yet the Safeco petitioners and their amici (four of which are also amici in Spokeo) failed to argue that the class representatives lacked Article III standing or that violation of the FCRA was not an “injury in fact.” It seems fair to ask why not, if the Article III argument is so compelling. One might speculate that the reason is that corporate litigation activists have only recently contrived the “statutory-violation-is-not-an-injury-in-fact” argument.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
The Supreme Court heard oral argument today in Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, which presents the questions:
(I) Whether differences among individual class members may be ignored and a class action certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3), or a collective action certified under the Fair Labor Standards Act, where liability and damages will be determined with statistical techniques that presume all class members are identical to the average observed in a sample.
(II) Whether a class action may be certified or maintained under Rule 23(b)(3), or a collective action certified or maintained under the Fair Labor Standards Act, when the class contains hundreds of members who were not injured and have no legal right to any damages.
Monday, November 2, 2015
The Supreme Court hears oral argument today in Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, which presents the question:
Whether Congress may confer Article III standing upon a plaintiff who suffers no concrete harm, and who therefore could not otherwise invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court, by authorizing a private right of action based on a bare violation of a federal statute.
For our earlier coverage, see here, here, and here. You should also check out Amy Howe’s preview of the argument for SCOTUSblog and the Vanderbilt Law Review’s En Banc Roundtable on the case, available here.
UPDATE: The transcript of the oral argument has now been posted.
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Four amicus briefs by law professors have been filed in the Supreme Court in Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, No. 14-1146 (to be argued November 10, 2015). Three of the law professors’ briefs support the respondent (the plaintiff class), and the fourth supports neither party.
The case has been a marathon, eight years and counting. In 2007, plaintiffs filed a class action (under Iowa state law and under Rule 23(b)(3)) and representative action (under the Fair Labor Standards Act) in the Northern District of Iowa. Plaintiffs sued on behalf of employees of Defendant Tyson Foods at its meat processing facility in Storm Lake, Iowa. The class sought unpaid overtime wages for uncompensated time spent donning and doffing clothing and protective equipment and other associated tasks.
In 2008, the district court certified both a collective action class and a Rule 23(b)(3) class, narrowing the class originally sought by the plaintiffs to include only those employees paid under a “gang time” compensation system in the Kill, Cut, or Retrim departments. Over 500 employees opted into the FLSA class. There are a few thousand members of the Rule 23(b)(3) class.
After losing the class certification motion, Tyson filed a motion to consolidate the case via multidistrict litigation with other, similar cases against Tyson. However, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation denied consolidation because discovery was likely to “proceed on a plant-by-plant basis.”
The plaintiff class survived a motion for summary judgment and a motion to decertify the class in 2011.
After a nine-day jury trial, the jury returned a verdict for the class of $2,892,378.70. With liquidated damages, the final judgment totaled $5,785,757.40. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the judgment. Bouaphakeo v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 765 F.3d 791, 796 (8th Cir. 2014), cert. granted, 135 S. Ct. 2806 (2015).
As Tyson phrases them, the two Questions Presented in the Supreme Court are:
(1) Whether differences among individual class members may be ignored and a class action certified under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(3), or a collective action certified under the Fair Labor Standards Act, where liability and damages will be determined with statistical techniques that presume all class members are identical to the average observed in a sample; and
(2) whether a class action may be certified or maintained under Rule 23(b)(3), or a collective action certified or maintained under the Fair Labor Standards Act, when the class contains hundreds of members who were not injured and have no legal right to any damages.
Three of the law professors’ briefs address the first question:
(Allan Erbsen, Kevin M. Clermont, Richard D. Freer, Mark Moller, and Howard M. Wasserman)
(Jonah B. Gelbach, Stephen B. Burbank, J. Maria Glover, Arthur R. Miller, Alexander A. Reinert, Adam N. Steinman, and Tobias Barrington Wolff)
(Sergio J. Campos, Suzette M. Malveaux, David Rosenberg, Michael D. Sant’Ambrogio, Jay Tidmarsh, and Adam S. Zimmerman )
One of the law professors’ briefs addresses the second question:
Monday, October 12, 2015
The Supreme Court heard oral argument in DIRECTV v. Imburgia, No. 14-462, on October 6. The issue is "Whether the California Court of Appeal erred by holding, in direct conflict with the Ninth Circuit, that a reference to state law in an arbitration agreement governed by the Federal Arbitration Act requires the application of state law preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act."